Orphan Works: Definitional Issues

Berkeley Digital Library Copyright Project White Paper No. 1

13 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2011 Last revised: 21 Jul 2017

See all articles by David R. Hansen

David R. Hansen

Duke University Libraries; University of North Carolina School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: December 19, 2011


This paper outlines responses to two definitional questions that arise in the context of orphan works: (1) exactly what is the “orphan works” problem?, and (2) what is the size of this problem? The answers to these two questions are central to understanding how proposed solutions work to remedy the situation. While the most common descriptions of the orphan works problem focus on unlocatable copyright owners, others have framed the issue in terms of a broader problem of market failure. This paper explores both formulations of the problem. Similarly, the size of the orphan works problem can be viewed from many angles. Rough approximations of the size of the problem for certain types of works (e.g., published monographs) are available, but comprehensive data on the number and value of orphan works do not currently exist for a wide variety of works and the uses to which those works might be put. This paper suggests areas in which further research on these issues is needed.

About this Paper: This white paper is the first in a series from the Berkeley Digital Library Copyright Project, an effort organized by Berkeley Law professors Pamela Samuelson, Jason Schultz, and Jennifer Urban. The project aims to investigate copyright obstacles facing libraries and other like-minded organizations in their efforts to realize the full potential of making works available digitally. More information can be found on the project’s website.

Keywords: Copyright, Orphan Works, Digital Libraries

Suggested Citation

Hansen, David R., Orphan Works: Definitional Issues (December 19, 2011). Berkeley Digital Library Copyright Project White Paper No. 1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1974614 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1974614

David R. Hansen (Contact Author)

Duke University Libraries ( email )

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University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

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University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

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